Heritage + Community = Evergreen Brickworks

In this second post I want to highlight some examples of how heritage resources have been used to build great public spaces that are elegant in physical design and also create a sense of community connectedness. Four examples immediately come to mind. They are:  Evergreen Brickworks, Artscape Wychwood Barns, Roundhouse Park and Fort York National Historic Site. Each has emerged in the last decade a shining example of placemaking.  Placemaking is defined by The Project for Public Spaces as “the art of creating public places of the soul,’ that uplift and help us connect to each other.

In each case, the landscape the buildings and the story of the place was used as both an ideas platform and a physical platform from which to create powerful physical spaces that result in better community connectedness. In each case there was a community of citizens that that worked hard to develop the vision and planning required to execute the projects.  This is further evidence of how important the community is in identiying what consitutes heritage and how it can contribute to  community building.

I will elaborate on the Evergreen Brickworks here but for a really great overview of the planning and thinking behind both Evergreen Brickworks and Artscape Wychwood Barns see “Toronto Brownfield Redux”, a speech given by Jo Lobko of DTAH at the ICOMOS Symposium in Paris in 2011.

Evergreen Brickworks, is a community environmental centre that operates from what was a 12-acre abandoned industrial site. It’s the site of the Don Valley Pressed Brick Company which produced bricks here for 100 years until 1989.  The site contains the physical landscape of the former quarry along with the exposure on the north slope of the internationally renowned sequence of environmental change — where one can see debris from a cooler climate covered by debris from a warmer climate, buried beneath another sequence of glacial deposits. In addition to an internationally significant landscape history, the brickworks site contains 16 original buildings, 300-foot brick kilns, and lots of graffiti.  The project to transform an abandoned brownfield site into a centre for urban sustainability centre for came out of the historic legacy of the site itself.

Both the landscape features and the buildings have been restored and adapted, harnessing the power of the story of the site. Evergreen’s vision was that the “greenest building is often the one that already exists” and so the focus was to adaptively reuse the buildings, maintaining the industrial heritage of the site and the sense of wonder people have when they visit an abandoned manufacturing site. It was in that spirit that the graffiti was retained and the industrial artifacts were left on the site.

The result is a hugely popular destination that blends, community, heritage and environmental education. It’s successful at attracting tourists and locals because it has harnessed the power of heritage to make it an authentic place.  In 2009 it was a top 10 finalist in the National Geographic Geotourism awards and runner-up for “Best Public Space in Canada by the Canadian Institute of Planners.

In subsequent posts I will elaborate on how Fort York National Historic Site, Artscape Wychwood Barns, and Roundhouse Park have used heritage as a rich resource from which to build new urban spaces that contribute greatly to the city.

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